New Vistas

Pilgrimage to Sturgis, Part Two

Issue 144

Part One of the story appeared in Issue 143.

Recap

By the time I got my helmet and jacket off, the warlord was standing next to me – a big guy with a commanding presence. He reminded me of Steven Seagal.

“Appreciate what you did man, what’s your name?”

I didn’t think “Jan” would work in an outlaw biker movie, so I called myself “Montana” – the state I’d just crossed.

“Well, let me buy you a beer, Montana?” He swung his hand over my shoulder either in a gesture of friendship, or to eliminate options. This guy didn’t seem the type to tolerate much in the way of options.

I sat down at the bar next to a stunning, leggy blond. “This is my girlfriend,” he said. She looked over at me with a warm smile that could melt Mount. Rushmore. The renegades crowded around us in a semi-circle, leaving no escape route.

“Get Montana whatever he wants!” the warlord bellowed to the bartender. Then he asked how I got Red’s bike running. (In Part One, I encountered Red and his non-starting motorcycle.)

I explained Red’s lack of maintenance and the likelihood that ignoring it further could be dangerous, expensive, and time-consuming.

“I know what you mean man,” he responded, “We’ve been here waiting for hours.”
Although I empathized with his sacrifice, I felt my message had fallen on deaf ears.

Part Two

“You know,” he philosophized, “If I couldn’t have a Harley, I’d get a BMW bike like yours.” I guess he was trying to flatter me. I felt like responding, “Yah, and if I didn’t have my Audi Roadster, I’d get an Edsel like yours.” But as discretion is the better part of survival, I ordered a Killian’s Red instead.

The Killian’s just kept coming after that, whether I ordered them or not. Even when I’d had enough, they kept sliding across the bar towards me.

The warlord moved to a table with his lieutenants, but the leggy moll stayed behind to impress me. She didn’t have to say anything to do that. With her china doll face and Barbie proportions, she looked sweet and delicious. I wasn’t surprised when she introduced herself as “Candy.”

They call him Chip, Candy said, because he was once a CHP (California Highway Patrol) officer. She explained that he’d developed an allergy to two-way communication devices, so he’d get on his bike, turn off the CB radio, and spend the rest of the day riding and writing tickets. The department was happy for the income, but unhappy that they could never reach him for emergencies.

Apparently, he got away with this for two years before they asked him to ride on his own time and bike. So he bought an ex-CHP Harley, chopped it, and fell in with this tattoo-and-chains gang. Sometimes, there’s only one degree of separation between the law and the lawless.

He became popular by helping the other renegades beat traffic tickets. When he started organizing rides to exotic locales (anything outside their Zip Code) he was elected Road Captain. Not long after that, he was the presumed leader. No one dared challenge him.

 

Passing Mount Rushmore on the way to a Black Hills Motorcycle Classic in Sturgis. Courtesy of sturgismotorcyclerally.com.

Passing Mount Rushmore on the way to a Black Hills Motorcycle Classic in Sturgis. Courtesy of sturgismotorcyclerally.com.

 

Candy impressed me as a gem in the rough. She was far from stupid, but uneducated. She had trouble expressing herself for lack of a precise vocabulary, and that seemed to frustrate her. Sometimes she just stopped in mid-sentence, gathering her thoughts. There was a lot of “well, you know,” and “sorta like,” and so on.

She told me a sad tale of a childhood on welfare with a “liberated” mother who was so focused on her rights, she didn’t have time for her responsibilities. So Candy grew up with no constraints or value system and soon drifted into drugs and prostitution.

Her attraction to Chip? “He keeps me out of trouble,” she responded. That was hard to imagine, because he didn’t impress me as the type to avoid confrontation, but I supposed she meant that Chip kept her from spiraling deeper into self-destructive behavior.

Then Chip got up, grabbed his jacket, and walked towards the door. All the renegades immediately did likewise – like a flock of birds changing direction simultaneously. I stayed on the stool, hoping they’d leave without me.

“Let’s go,” Candy said, “We’re leaving.”

“I’ll stay,” I replied, “I’m not ready to ride.”

Candy ran off to Chip, and a few minutes later, he was at my side.

“Hey Montana, you wanna stay, that’s fine with me. But I’d like to buy you dinner and a room for the night. The next town isn’t far.”

Air conditioning, a shower, some more time with Candy, I could live with that, I rationalized.

The ugly school bus rattled to life in a cloud of smoke, just like the choppers. I assumed it was carrying everyone’s gear because there wasn’t any on their bikes other than the odd jacket. Candy threw her long leg over the back of Chip’s bike and as he pulled out, he motioned me to follow in the  number two spot directly behind him. I wondered if that would annoy the lieutenants.

The next stretch down the Bighorn Mountains was a beautiful winding road tracing a dry river bed. Chip’s springer forks were some of the longest in the group, with no front brake, so I expected a sedate tour. But he slowly picked up speed as we progressed, and soon, the rest of the group disappeared into the rear view mirrors. He sped up even more, and I wondered if he was testing me. I could see his forks flex like a fly rod as he entered and exited the turns. Chip didn’t relent. It was challenging to keep up on my nimble R90S.

I assumed Candy must have been freaking out! As one corner turned into a 180-degree turn, I envisioned the chopper taking a tangent into the bushes and throwing both riders into the air before stopping in a cloud of dust. I backed off so as not to add to Chip’s pressure to perform, but he skillfully railed the front wheel along the edge of the road’s shoulder. Candy looked back at me grinning from ear to ear.

When we hit the limits of Gillette, Wyoming, Chip and I pulled in to a chain motel, but to my surprise, the rest of the group kept going.

“Hey Montana, you go with Candy to book the rooms!” She got off his bike, then he pulled away to catch up with the rest of the group. At first, I wondered if he’d reneged and expected me to pay for my room, or perhaps several rooms, but Candy paid for the rooms with a credit card. Perhaps Chip felt that I looked more like the respectable citizen needed to fend off the proprietor’s right to refuse service.

She gave me a key and instructed me to unload my bike. Shortly afterwards, she knocked on my door and said, “let’s go.” She threw her perfect leg over my back seat, wrapped her arms around my waist, and we headed down the road, me wearing full leathers, and she wearing her grade school cut-offs and a sleeveless cleavage snugged into my back.

We passed the ugly school bus, which was gassing up on the right. Across the street, the choppers were lined up in front of a bar. For the next couple of hours, we ate, drank and partied. As the lieutenants warmed up to me, so did the rest of the group.

The driver of the ugly school bus came in with his girlfriend shortly after he gassed up. He was walking awkwardly, with one leg too short which featured a joint that defied human physiology. He had a hard time getting onto the bar stool, but wouldn’t let his girlfriend help. Candy explained that he’d been mutilated in a horrible bike crash a few years earlier. So, Chip decided the group needed a gear hauler, and he was its driver. This way, not only was he still able to enjoy the bike trips, he was also fulfilling an important role. I was touched with this expression of empathy.

Chip sat down next to me and we shared battle stories. Like me, he’d grown up on the wrong side of the tracks and understood the mentality of angry young men. He also seemed to understand how to influence and control them.

Somehow, the conversation turned to freeway gridlock. Chip was passionate about it and felt he had the solution. “Turn all diamond lanes into motorcycle-only lanes,” he suggested, “Much of the public is attracted to motorcycles; they love the notion of freedom, rapid transit, and easy parking. But they are intimidated by the hostile crazies in cages. Motorcycle-only lanes would do much to mitigate that fear. As an added incentive, all parking lots should have motorcycle-only parking areas adjacent to and equal in size to handicapped parking areas. If only 10 percent of the public could be convinced to switch to riding motorcycles,” he continued, “freeway gridlock and parking problems would be a thing of the past.”

“This solution is a lot easier on the taxpayers than mass transit,” I added; “Besides, most commuters prefer their cars over trains or buses – which is why they are usually empty.”

“I never see politicians using public transport,” he responded. “If you want sound legislation, politicians should be required to abide by the policies they foist unto the public.”

To my surprise, Chip and I had something in common.

The next morning, I sat through an endless breakfast at the local greasy spoon. Renegades strolled in at their leisure with no set plans or deadlines. Just when I thought the last one had finished breakfast and we were ready to roll, another one would stroll in. It was annoying. Riding alone, I’d have 100 miles under my wheels by 10 am.

I was invited to throw my gear into the bus, but preferred to keep it on the bike. It made a comfortable backrest, and was easier to monitor. We stopped every few miles for gas, beers, more gas, more beers, etc. I wasn’t allowed to pay for anything. Later in the afternoon, I offered to buy a round. Chip would hear none of it. I didn’t feel right about that, and insisted. Chip gave me the evil eye.

Then Candy took me aside and whispered, “We’re not paying for any of this Montana, we’re using stolen credit cards!”

Great! I thought. Now I’m an accessory to fraud! I had visions of the police busting into the bar, reading us our rights, and hauling us off to some free accommodations. Who would believe I was duped?

I pondered what to do as I was finishing my beer. These folks had been very nice to me, and I didn’t want to hurt their feelings. But I didn’t share their lifestyle, and I sure as hell didn’t plan to share a cell. I had to find a way to depart gracefully.

When we got to the next bar, the group pulled over again. Good Lord! I’d had enough.

I pulled up next to Chip and hollered, “It’s been a real hoot traveling with you guys, Chip, but I prefer to keep on riding.  You OK with that?”

“I get it Montana. Go do your thing man. Maybe we’ll see you in Sturgis?”

I got off my bike, shook his hand, pecked Candy on the cheek, waved to the other renegades, and I was off, glad I hadn’t stashed my gear on the bus so I could make a quick getaway.

Header image: woman and man on their way to a Black Hills Motorcycle Classic in Sturgis, South Dakota. Courtesy of sturgismotorcyclerally.com.

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